French Bloke Runs

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Tag: Hills

More running with Serpentine

Like I mentioned recently, I just joined the Serpentine Running Club. I already had a hills session with the club and despite it being tough, I went back last week and I’ll certainly go back this Saturday. It’s not that I love running hills, but I’m not as good at it than I though I was and I can see that it is really beneficial. This time was even tougher than the previous session: we did 3 times 12 minutes of running up and down different hills in Greenwich park, but this time I was less ridiculous than the first time: I didn’t give everything I had in the first twelve minutes, so I had energy left for the 2 following intervals, and I didn’t finish last, I even overtook some runners during the exercise, so I’m getting there and it’s really rewarding to see that I’m getting better.

But the main event with the Serpies this week wasn’t the hills session, it was the Club Championship. Last Tuesday was the 1 Mile event, at the Paddington tracks. Mid-distance is far from my favourite kind of running but Lanky Pole convinced me to come to the tracks on that day. It was good to see so many runners at the same time and so many motivated and dedicated club members, it reinforced the sentiment of belonging, especially since everyone must be wearing the club’s colours for races.

Runners were separated into different groups depending on their expected performance. There were 2 groups of women and 5 groups of men. Based on my only time on a mile so far (5:42 at the Westminster Mile) I ended up in the ‘C’ group, which wasn’t too bad.

I did my warm-ups, dynamic stretching and all the trimmings. On the starting line, I was really intimidated and I forgot all the advice Lanky Pole had given me a month earlier at the Westminster Mile. The race began really fast: even though I was at the back of the pack, I knew couldn’t hold that pace for the 4 laps, so I stayed at the back, slowly leaving the runners ahead widening the gap. I think being the last and seeing the others further and further ahead put me down a little bit, and I didn’t run as fast as I should have. Even though I finally managed to overtake one guy in the last lap, I only finished in 5:46, which is 4 seconds slower than my performance at the Westminster mile. This was bad for 2 reasons: you’re supposed to race faster on tracks than on the road, and it was the first time that I didn’t beat my PB in a race.

Anyway, I didn’t let this get me down: in a way, I had a new PB because it was my first Mile on tracks. And I knew I hadn’t given everything I had: my lungs weren’t even burning at the end of the race! So I knew I’ll be doing better the next time. Anyway, someone was in a worse position than me: unfortunately Lanky Pole couldn’t run because he was injured and he was really upset about it. But it didn’t prevent him (nor me) from having a post-run pint with everyone at the pub.

Running track

Running track Photo by Colin Harris

Serpentine & hills

There we are, I gave in to Lanky Pole‘s pressure and I finally joined the Serpentine Running Club. It is a big club, with almost 2,000 members. It’s a bit expensive to join on the first year, but I’ve heard it’s worth it. I have to admit, after the first week as a member, I’m already convinced. First, there’s the club t-shirt, which gives you a sense of belonging to a team, then there are the events organised by the club (mostly races), finally there’s plenty of training sessions every week, and I still have a lot to discover about the club…

Serpentine

Speaking of training sessions, I discovered that the Serpies (that’s how we call the members of the club) have a weekly hills training session in Greenwich, so I decided to sign up for this one. This session is coached and I though it would be a good thing to finally run these hills properly. I arrived a bit late, but the coach was very friendly and she told me to catch-up with the group of 10 who was already warming up in the park. After a little bit of jogging, we gathered around the coach to do some proper warm-ups, which reminded me a bit of my sessions with Lanky Pole: walking on the heels, on the toes, plenty of warm-up movements, lunges, high knees, etc…

After that, the coach gave us advice on running form in the hills: work with the core muscles, have the arms at a 90 degrees angle, keep the shoulders and the face relaxed, and I’m sure i’m forgetting some. We then went to the nitty gritty and did 2 series of 12 minutes of hills running. Unlike my previous personal hills sessions, this one gave very little time for recovery: it was going up and straight down and up again. Also, we ran on the turf (or rather on the high grass) which made it even harder. After the first 12 minutes I was already knackered, but off we went for the second round! At the end of the second round I was the slowest of the group, even though on paper I was not supposed to be. Oh well, this gives me plenty room for improvement.

We finished by a relay in teams of three, up and down hills of course, and thanks to me my team finished last, but at least I gave all I had on the finish line. Lack of training aside, I think one of the reasons I was so slow was probably because I was dehydrated: the session lasted for 2 hours, which is much longer than I ever ran in the past and it was really hot on that day. But I made it all and I was quite happy anyway: I had learned more in these 2 hours than I could ever learn by myself. After the relay, we cooled down together and did a bit of stretching. I had to leave the group, but they all went to the café to enjoy some well-deserved coffee and cakes.

I came back really happy from this session: training with a coach and with a group brings so much! Even though I was dead-beat, I already wanted to sign up for the following week! Next time, I’ll come with a water bottle and I’ll make sure I have nothing planned afterwards, so I can enjoy the coffee and the cake with the others, and each time I’ll be better and better.

Running hills

When I started running, I dreaded running uphill and I did all my running on flats. To be honest, I still do most of my running along the thames but I have changed my views on hills. Lanky Pole once told me that I had to add some hills into my training if I wanted to improve – I just had to work with my arms. I later discovered in my training plan that I had to do “Kenyan hills” from time to time. And it’s true that running uphill will improve your leg strength and your running form as well as make your heart work out. Kenya being just a wee too far just for a run, I guessed the hills of Greenwich would do.

Greenwich park hill

Greenwich park hill photo by Francisco Antunes

The first time I ran there was horrible. I thought “why would people impose such a gruelling exercise on themselves?” but I did it anyway. I now have my little routine and I always take the same path, starting with the very steep ascent on the Maze Hill side and going down “The Avenue”. I’m avoiding steeper downhill slopes because running downhill can be dangerous and lead to ligament injuries when braking repeatedly. I usually repeat this circuit between 3 and 5 times.

Last Saturday I was supposed to do 3 laps, but I surprised myself, and arriving down the slope after the third lap I climbed again for a fourth lap instead of leaving the park and jogging back home.

I’m not saying I love doing that, but it is challenging and I find it rewarding to notice some improvement week on week. I also run the same circuit when I’m supposed to do fartleks, because I convinced myself that they’re the same thing (even if they’re not). That’s because running fartleks, you’re supposed to accelerate when running uphill, and also because I add a sprint when I pass in front of the bandstand.

So it turns out I’m not too bad at running uphill. I remember my race at the Olympic Park: I was always overtaking my competitors when going uphill and they would catch up on me when going downhill. When Lanky Pole learned that, he said: “Oh, you’re one of those”. I’m not sure whether it was disdain or jealousy, but I’ll go for jealousy. Anyway, even if he’s the one who encouraged me to run hills, he prefers running downhill – it’s fairly obvious when you read his tales of the Welsh Castles Relay and of the Green Belt Relay (2 fun reads).

The thing I really love though, is hiking uphill, like we did on the Jbel Toubkal. Walking or running uphill, the important thing is to remember to work with your arms. Whenever I feel slow on a slope, I pull with my arms as if I was pulling on ropes and it really helps. What about you? What’s your experience with running uphill?

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